The medieval commentators on Aristotle knew that he held that the heavenly bodies are eternal. In the eighth book of the Physics the Stagirite upholds what he falsely believed to be the eternal circular motion of the heavens. Rotary motion, he reasoned, is eternal because in motion of any other kind rest must occur; circular motion is perpetually operative without a starting point, middle or ending point.
There was a great dispute on the subject of the eternity of the cosmos in the Middle Ages. The Arabian philosophers taught the eternity of the world. Moses Maimonides, the leader of Jewish thought in the 12th century, proposed the theory that we can know about creation only through revelation even though some philosophical proofs seem to incline toward the eternity of creation. He had a decisive influence on St. Albert who taught that creation as the absolute positing of being and as a free act of God’s will was entirely outside the realm of philosophical proof. St. Albert taught that the world’s temporal beginning can be proved once the postulate of creation is admitted.
Although there is disputation concerning the possibility of an eternal cosmos, we know from revelation that the world had a beginning de facto. The Vatican Council teaches that actually God created from the beginning of time a phrase repeated from the Council of Florence. St. Thomas teaches that the world actually had a beginning, and this known from revelation (1). Thus the Christian philosopher admits the actual beginning of the cosmos but the dispute concerns the possibility of an eternal created cosmos.
St. Thomas in his opusculum On the Eternity of the World maintains that God could create from all eternity so that a creature could exist which had no temporal beginning of its existence. The argument for the possibility of creation from eternity is that God can create as long as He exists, and He exists from all eternity. The contingency of creatures demands that God must exist before them in the order of nature and not of time.
St. Thomas asserts that it is not impossible “to proceed to infinity accidentally in efficient causes.” (2) It is only in the order of necessarily and actually connected causes that we must of necessity arrive at an ultimate cause. St. Thomas cannot see why there should have to an end to such causes as the hen producing the egg and egg the hen and so on indefinitely. This is an accidental order of causes.
To carry the series of mobile beings to infinity would not change their nature. As Aristotle remarked, if the world is eternal it is eternally insufficient and incomplete; it eternally demands a sufficient reason for its reality and intelligibility (3).
The present state of the world insofar as the conditions necessary for life are concerned will eventually come to an end. Scientific induction has established that the amount of energy in the universe is fixed and invariable — this is called the conservation of energy. Amount here is to be understood as the sum total of energy which is available and unavailable. It must be noted that wherever work is done, wherever an energizing condition exists, a certain available energy is lost in diffused heat. Therefore, it is maintained that as useless energy increases, the useful energy decreases by the same amount; this ratio of useless to useful energy is called entropy.
Entropy states that the ratio is constantly increasing and this means that the amount of energy available for the energizing process of the world is ever becoming less. Such a decrease means ultimately the end of the conditions necessary for life. Organisms cannot survive except under conditions where considerable energy is available; therefore, organic life will eventually come to an end.
There are other scientists who predict the end of life on the earth in a different way. The Cambridge astronomer, Frederick Hoyle, in his work on The Nature of the Universe, contends that as more and more hydrogen is converted into helium, the sun will become hotter (4). By the time the sun has used about a third of its present store of hydrogen the climate of the earth, even at the poles, will be too hot for any forms of life to endure. At a later stage, the oceans will boil and life will be extinct.
These ingenious and fascinating theories are worthy of our consideration. However, it is important to remember that they are theories. Man still knows very little about the future of the universe in its details. We can be certain that at the beginning of the coming century our scientific picture of the end of our world will different from our present ideas, just as these are different from ideas prevalent at the beginning of our century. It is for these reasons that the philosopher should take care not to make a quite unnecessary defense of the perennial principles of philosophy from our present speculations about the future of our planet and the universe itself.
- Summa Theologica, P. 1, q. 46, a. 1 and 2.
Summa Theologica, P. 1, q. 46, a. 2 and 7.
Metaphysics, Bk. 12, ch. 6.
F. Hoyle, The Nature of the Universe (N.Y.: Harper Bros., 1950), pp. 74-88.
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The Radical Academy recommends: Books by Kenneth F. Dougherty at Amazon.com
The Moral Liberal recommends the 19th Century classic Spirituality: They Key to the Science of Theology by Parley P. Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as a modern Christ-centered testimony on the Creation. An amazing and inspiring volume!